Latest from Mormon Land: The contrasting views of Joseph Smith’s wives about polygamy

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It’s no surprise that the plural wives (and their families) of church founder Joseph Smith had varying views of polygamy.

Scholar Todd Compton, author of “In Sacred Loneliness: The Documents,” noted as much during his appearance on our “Mormon Land” podcast last fall.

But the differences are deep in two reflections he cited in a recent “From the Desk” interview with Kurt Manwaring.

First, from Joseph’s niece Ina Coolbrith, daughter of Agnes Moulton Coolbrith. Agnes had married the Latter-day Saint prophet in 1842:

“Is it right for a girl of 15 and even 16 to marry a man of 50 or 60? Can there be any love there? And has not God willed a woman to love honor and obey her husband? And can it be right thus to pledge false vows at the altar, in perfect mockery of all that is good and pure in God’s most holy laws?” Ina wrote in 1857 (edited here for clarity). “I think I see myself, vowing to love and honor, some old driveling idiot of 60, to be taken into his harem and enjoy the pleasure of being his favorite sultana for an hour, and then thrown aside, whilst my godly husband, is out sparking another girl, in hopes of getting another victim to his despotic power. Pleasant prospect, I must say. And this, Joe, this is of God, is it? No, never, never, never! You may preach, you may talk to me from now to eternity, but you never will make me believe that polygamy is true.”

Compare those words with these, from Eliza Partridge Smith Lyman, who married Joseph in 1843:

“It is now about 31 years since the prophet Joseph Smith taught to me the principles of celestial marriage. I was then married by that order and have raised a family of both sons and daughters in what is called polygamy, and I am not afraid to say that it is one of the most pure and holy principles that has ever been revealed to the Latter-day Saints, and one that is necessary to our exaltation,” she wrote in 1879 (again edited for clarity). “The anti-polygamists say the laws of celestial marriage are a curse to our children. Will they be kind enough to tell us where it is any disadvantage to them? We are not afraid to compare our children with those born and raised in monogamy. Perhaps they do not know that the Lord reserved some of the most noble spirits to come forth in the last days, to perform the great work which he has begun on earth, and which he will consummate in spite of all opposing influences. … Then let us rejoice, my sisters, that we are numbered with the people of God, that we have embraced the celestial order of marriage, and happy shall we be in a coming day if we have never spoken lightly of sacred things.”

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